Ask a Farmer: Butler University's Tim Dorsey

We quizzed the farm manager at the Center for Urban Ecology to get the good dirt on gardening in the city.

Editor’s Note: From raising chickens and goats to knitting a masterpiece to pickling and preserving, we present your ultimate guide to mastering the homespun, do-it-yourself life in Indy. So slip on your gardening gloves, and let’s get dirty.

Indiana has a notoriously fickle spring—what should we be planting this month?
Start with spinach, carrots, and peas. Those are really good, common early crops.

So how do we keep from killing them?
Carrot seeds need to be kept really moist until they germinate, which can take a couple of weeks. They need deeper, well-worked soil because they’re growing along the roots. Spinach and peas can be a little more forgiving. The spinach can be planted densely, which helps keep the weeds down. The peas need to be trellised a little bit, depending on the variety.

Are there other plants that grow well together?
There’s the age-old “three sisters” model, where you grow squash around some corn. This basically holds the weeds down. Then you grow beans at the base, which, as a legume, provides nitrogen to the soil. And if they’re pole beans, they can grow up the corn, a natural trellis.

Where do you buy seeds or plants?
Check out farmers markets because there are locals growing really good transplants. A lot of those folks are growing them naturally or organically. You can also get good starts at [places] like Habig, The Garden Center, and Sullivan’s Hardware.

It can get pretty dry here. What about watering?
An average for vegetables tends to be about an inch per week at least. Leaves being moist can lead to the proliferation of diseases, so anytime you can water down at the roots is ideal.

How do you keep animals and other pests away? The only thing that worked for me eventually was putting hoops over the row and covering it with insect netting. The best thing you can do on a backyard scale is just handpicking pests off. There are some organic approved pesticides, but those should be a last resort. 


Can’t make it to one of Slow Food Indy’s how-to classes or seasonal farm tours? Get friendly with (and inside knowledge from) like-minded urban homesteaders at the “good, clean, and fair food”–focused group’s SIP HAPPY HOURS, held the third Thursday of the month. On the April 17 agenda: cocktails and a screening of bee-centric film More Than Honey at the IMA’s Toby theater.


This article appeared in the April 2014 issue.